09/19/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

New Study Confirms Water Is Wet

Since I've lately began to cherish The New York Times for its scrupulous reporting on new studies, the Tuesday, July 28 issue was especially valuable to me. It included three--count 'em, three--studies, two of which warranted front-page, above-the-fold placement. At the top left, this headline appeared: "In Study, Texting Lifts Crash Risk By Large Margin." The story included the news that when drivers in trucks rigged with video cameras texted, "their collision risk was 23 times greater than when not texting."

Well, duh!

Just to the right of that shocker--under an arty photograph of Sgt. First Class Edward Tierney on night duty in Iraq--was a story with the headline, "Hunches Prove to Be Valuable Assets in Battle." In the account, we learned that "[i]n the past two years, an Army researcher, Steven Burnett, has overseen a study into human perception and bomb detection involving about 800 military men and women." According to the story, "the study complements a growing body of work suggesting that the speed with which the brain reads and interprets sensations like the feelings in one's own body and emotions in the body language of others is central to avoiding imminent threats."

Well, double-duh!!

I had to forge on to page 13 of that treasure-trove issue to discover, under the headline "Obese Americans Spend Far More on Health Care" that "Obese Americans spend about 42 percent more on health care than normal-weight Americans, according to a new study based on 2006 figures."

Well, duh! three times over.

Which brings me to why I hunt these stories. (I'll defer more recent study reports until later.) They all come under the category "Water is Wet," and I'm collecting category additions. I'm trying to figure out the need for repeatedly being informed about what we all already know.
Money is being spent on these evidently endless studies--perhaps lots and lots and lots of money. For what? For news as old as recorded time and maybe older. Weren't, for instance, primitive men and women using their hunches to keep them out of the grip of marauding enemies, human or sub-human, without having to corroborate their behavior with a new study undertaken by Fred Flintstone?

It's not that I don't see part of the point. Confirmation that obese Americans throw more hard-earned cash into health care substantiates the need for a fight against obesity, but during a time of economic crisis, wouldn't the capital behind such a study be better spent promoting the fight before a substantiating study is completed? Or begun? (This assumes, of course, that a study isn't coming along that will contradict the conclusions of the first one?) Do we need to test truckers texting--and evidently adding to trucking accidents in the process--before we prohibit all drivers from texting in moving vehicles?

Hey, wait a minute? Mightn't there even be something illegal in allowing truckers to text under these study conditions and thereby cause uncalled for accidents simply for the benefit of categorically deciding they shouldn't be doing what we knew all along they shouldn't be doing? Where does using common sense figure in? Or doesn't anyone have common sense any more? Or do we need a study to determine the answer? Imagine The New York Times headline: "Common Sense Found to Be Common Among 83% of Americans, New Study Finds." Sub-headline: "Remaining 17% Work in New-Studies Field."

But let's go back to a few more of that "Water is Wet" Times coverage--and, believe me, I'm not blaming the Times, where they're just diligently passing along the findings. A few weeks later in the newspaper of record, it's called to our attention--under the "Generation Gap Narrows, And Beatles Are a Bridge" headline--that "raging antagonisms that defined the intergenerational divide in the 1960s have eased." It seems that the Pew Research Center survey has determined that "[e]very age group from 16 through 64 listens to rock 'n' roll more than any other format." You say you want a revolution, and here it's confirmed.

In a recent Science Times section under the single word headline "Really?" we're told that "[i]n 2004, researchers in San Diego found that subjects in a study were able to correctly match pictures of dog owners with their pets more often than not, but only when the dogs were pure-breds." Yes, it appears the old saying about dog owners coming to resemble their dogs may be true. Not because the Bible says it's so, but because a study says it's so. The Times writer does conclude, however, "Some studies argue that dogs can resemble their owners, but the research is debatable." But likely not inexpensive.

Okay, folks, this is the New York Times headline I'm waiting for: "Most New Studies Found Wasteful, Redundant, According to New Study."